Critical Essays about“A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”

Get Full Book free || Click Here

The Question of Autobiography

The question of how much autobiographical material Joyce inserted into the fictional character of

Stephen Dedalus has long been a matter of debate. Scholars and critics still produce evidence on both sides of the issue, but for the most part, the question has been largely resolved through the contributions of Richard Ellman, Joyce’s definitive biographer, and Joyce’s brother Stanislaus, who wrote his own book about Joyce, My Brother’s Keeper.

Despite the countless similarities between Joyce’s own childhood and that of Stephen Dedalus, Stanislaus Joyce makes it clear that “Stephen Dedalus is an imaginary, not a real, self-portrait.” Significant details exist to verify this view, including Joyce’s school records at Clongowes and Belvedere, as well as recorded interviews with several of Joyce’s friends. Stanislaus points out that although Joyce “followed his own development closely, has been his own model and (has) chosen to use many incidents from his own experience. He has (also) transformed and invented many others.”

One example of such invention is Joyce’s portrait Of Stephen as a physically weak, cowering and innocent “victim” at Clongowes. In contrast to this view of Stephen, Stanislaus remembers Joyce as a relatively well-adjusted student and “a good athlete,” who won “a variety of cups for his prowess in hurdling and walking.” He also recalls that Joyce was less isolated, less relatively bookish, and at times, less manageable than Stephen. In the Clongowes ‘ Punishment Book we find that Joyce, unlike Stephen, was never punished mistakenly for an incident involving broken glasses, but the book does record that Joyce received at least two punishments for forgetting to bring a book to class, and on another occasion, he was punished for using “vulgar language.”

Other variances between Stephen and Joyce are found in Joyce’s treatment of Stephen’s friends, most of whom are clearly intellectually inferior to him. Stanislaus remembers, to the contrary, that Joyce’s friends provided him with significant mental stimulation throughout his adolescent development. Yet another difference between the creator and the creation exists in Joyce’s relationship with his father. Ellman states, “In A Portrait, Stephen denies that Simon is in any real sense his father, but James himself had no doubt that he was in every way his father’s son.” In addition, Stanislaus recalls the Cork incident in the novel (where Stephen travels with Simon to Cork) and states that Joyce’s feelings during that trip were quite different; unlike Stephen, who was disgusted by his father’s visits to various pubs, Stanislaus emphasizes that “my brother’s James’ I letters … at the time were written in a tone of amusement even when he described going from one bar to another.” Joyce’s fictional representations of his friends at the university are just that—fictional. He changed many of their personalities, invented non-existent dialogues, and deliberately excluded significant individuals in the novel. Clearly, Stephen Dedalus is Joyce’s fictional Persona, whom he used to express his ideas about. The lyrical, epical, and dramatic forms of literature. In conclusion, in spite of-the obvious autobiographical similarities, Stephen is a fictional representation of Joyce’s art. Stephen exists, as does the novel, as an example of the author’s “handiwork,” behind which Joyce is “invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent …” and, probably if he had his way in the matter, is still standing concealed somewhere, “paring his nails.”

Artistic Development of the Hero

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man had various themes which covered many areas. The primary theme of the novel is the artistic development ‘Of the artist, Stephen, and this relates specifically to the artist’s development in the life of a national language. Stephen experiences many voices of Ireland as well as those of the writers of his education. Out of all these voices emerges Stephen’s aesthetic theory and his desire to find his own manner of expression. Stephen develops his own voice as a way of escaping these constraints. One of the main constraints on the artist as Joyce depicts his life is the Roman Catholic Church. However, it is both a constraint and an enabling condition for the artist’s development. First, the Jesuit education Stephen receives, gives him a thorough grounding in the classical and medieval thinkers. It also structures Stephen’s life in such a way that it provides him with a basis for his own development as a moral and intellectual person. In relation to his eventual development of a theory of art or an aesthetic theory, Stephen fully draws on’ this tradition. He uses two central doctrines of the church in this theory. First, he revises the doctrine into a way of imagining the relationship between art and the world it describes. When Stephen develops his theory, he thinks of himself as taking on the role of a “priest of eternal imagination, transmuting the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of ever-loving life,” The second use of Catholic doctrine or tradition relates to its creation of a priesthood, a class of men separate from the world who act as intermediaries between the deity and the people, In Stephen’s idea of the artist, he is priest like, performing the miracle of turning life into art. Joyce is in good company when he uses techniques to drive a wedge in the totalizing authority of the church and in other forms of seriousness, even the artist’s own, When Stephen is discoursing learnedly on his aesthetic theory, his friend Lynch criticizes him. He brings lust into’ the picture of how and why art is created. He laughs at Stephen’s deadly serious use of the scholastics to develop a theory of art. Earlier in the novel, when Mrs., Dante Riordan is condemning Parnell and supporting his excommunication from the Catholic church, Mr. Dedalus and Mr. Casey discourages her, describing fat priests, the way the priests eat, and generally joking about the priest’s grasping for. Power. They win that argument. Mrs. Riordan leaves. It serves a good lesson for the young Stephen, who never employs it himself, but which Joyce certainly makes good use of. Even in describing Stephen’s process of writing a poem to his beloved, he begins in poetic inspiration and ends in lust, both are used to produce the poem. It is this philosophy that characterizes the final version of Stephen’s ideas of the function of art and the free life. Instead of the church’s idea of mortifying the flesh in favor’ of the spirit, Stephen finally decides that the flesh should also be given voice. The novel itself insists on the local as a site for theories of the universal, of the body as the place in which the spirit resides. The final description of Stephen’s theory of art is not in the novel’s narrative it is the novel’s narrative, as it incorporates all the voices of Stephen’s development, orchestrates them, makes them speak to each other, and disables any one of them from an authoritative hold over the free artist.


Though Joyce’s A Portrait is not a fully Modernist text (in the sense that Ulysses is), the novel appeared as a significant influence in the early days of the embryonic movement. Its subject and techniques anticipate many of the features of the later, more mature achievements of both Modernism and of Joyce himself, who became its prime mover. To fully appreciate these features in A Portrait it is vital to see it in the wider context of European artistic currents, and especially in the light of the crisis of values and uncertainties which took place during the period from 1890 to1920, a crisis which occurred in the face of a widespread collapse of confidence in science, philosophy, religion and art. To try to pinpoint the start of any movement with a specific date or work of art is inevitably a ticklish endeavor-—Modernism more so since it was never a school, just a more or less simultaneous stirring * among intellectuals and artists as a common but independent reaction to the failure of science and religion to offer a convincing definition of the changing world. There was never any consensus or manifesto among the artists and writers who have since been grouped together under its umbrella by succeeding critics. Thus Modernism has no easily identifiable starting date and indeed no real starting date—it grew instead as a late nineteenth-century reaction to Romanticism and a response to the world’s social and intellectual changes. And while its achievements reveal it’s radically distinct approaches based on new perspectives, its initial rise was quite gradual. While the break itself is difficult to pinpoint in time there is no question about the great divide in the terms on which art, ‘literature, philosophical attitudes, social values, politics and science separated the Modernists from the age of Jane Austen, Wordsworth, George Eliot and Dickens. But what differentiates the approach and style of Modernism from what went before? How can we identify the style of Modernism—its soul? To start with, Modernism is not one style but many. Unlike Romanticism which was effectively a change of emphasis growing out of the unconscious reaction to Neo- classicism, Modernism is a concerted attempt to create a new artistic attitude through a new way of looking at the world and at the art which expresses it. This is typified for instance in the new styles of painting, such as Picasso’s Cubism, with rejection of representationalism in favor Of significant form and expressive style based on experience—a sort of introversion turning on skepticism and mannerism, in which technique and form are un- mistakably foregrounded. But unlike representational art, which finds its pretext in a close physical correspondence between the image and the real world, Modernist art finds its justification within itself; it is ultimately self-sufficient. For Modernist art, there is not merely a crisis in reality but also a crisis in perception. On a wider scale, Modernism springs from and closely corresponds with the crises and anxieties of the age as a whole—industrialization and urbanization on a vast scale, rapid and uncontrollable change and chaos, together with the inevitable alienation of the individual. And all this is mirrored in the splintering of art into diverse schisms and “-isms” Two central challenges have preoccupied the Modernist novel: exploration and expression of the subtle potentialities of consciousness, and a coming to terms with the perceived state of chaos and fragmentation of the real world. Although A Portrait is not a fully Modernist text, both of these concerns can already be seen in embryo in it: firstly, in the abandonment of the restraints of conventional chronological plot (in favor of expressive form with modulating styles and shifting author-character-reader relationships arranged through Stephen Dedalus’s consciousness; and, secondly, in the sense of awe and fear which Stephen feels in the face of the chaos behind received forms of order (that is, the imposed moral order of the adult world and the Church) and the void awaiting him in the uncertain future beyond the novel:

A sense of fear of the unknown moved in the heart of his weariness, a fear of symbols and portents, Of the hawk like man whose name he bore soaring out of his captivity on osier woven wings … At the start of this century it seemed that the novel might have exhausted its potential in terms both of form and of content (having fully explored different forms and narrative styles, inner and outer states, politics, religion, philosophy, sex as well as violence). The novel could confidently embrace any aspect of human affairs which public taste and the circulating libraries would permit, or so it was confidently imagined.

However, in England the three-volume novel’s interest in scientific realism had declined into a sterile preoccupation with plot, materialism and the naturalistic fallacy of surface effects—typified in the writings of Wells, Galsworthy and Bennett who, according to Virginia Woolf, could examine every physical aspect about a character and yet overlook its essential soul. To illustrate her criticism she used the analogy of a railway in which a Mrs. Brown might be travelling with them, while they observed everything in the background:

… At factories, at Utopias, even at the decoration of the carriage; but never at her, never at life, never at human nature for us those conventions are ruin, those tools are death.”

 One of the immediate consequences of this apparent dead-end was a crisis of confidence, especially in the capacity of language to communicate, but there also followed a collapse of faith in the realist illusion (a skepticism which had been growing even as the novel itself had evolved, at least since the eighteenth century). The crisis emerged most characteristically in a new form of self-awareness, even in self-consciousness, doubt and a failure of confidence. But this was not new. Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (1760-67) brilliantly epitomizes the novelist’s doubts about narrative conventions and exploits them through parody for comic effect. It is of course a witty display of authorial virtuosity, though it accepts the traditional authorial role and material content in order to parody them. However, Modernism goes further than authorial virtuosity, especially in first undermining and then positing new author-reader relationships, directly co-opting the reader’s active involvement but also, through its subtlety of form-play, examining and qualifying the very nature of the art form itself as the artist creates it, so that ultimately the reader himself is complicit in the form of the novel. A Portrait focuses precisely on this and further anticipates later Modernist developments by focusing also on the theme of the artist—the growth of the artist becomes the theme of his own creation, and by extension if we grant the special relationship between Stephen Dedalus and James Joyce the novel eventually comes to discuss itself. For example, in Chapter 5 the villanelle and the art theory are the culmination of growing speculation about the nature of the artist’s relationship to his art, to his reader and to society in general:

“The image, it is clear, must be set between the mind or senses of the artist himself and the mind or senses of others.”

Because of this skepticism there also emerged in the early days of Modernism a distinct feeling of angst, a fear that the author of a novel creates nothing in fact but clearly fakes or forges the so-called reality in a work and that his search for form is partly to justify this (a clear symptom of this is the popularity of the detective story in the late nineteenth century especially among prominent writers such as Wilkie Collins, Dickens, Conan Doyle, Henry James and T. S. Eliot), forging a coherent pattern on to the apparent chaos. Stephen Dedalus too talks of forging in this way—imposing meaning on life through art, forging an order .different from that in reality but creating a new aesthetic order. But he also uses “forges” to highlight the sense that the Modernist artist is a confidence trickster, deceiver, con man like Thomas Mann’s Felix Krull. But who is fooling whom? Is Stephen deceiving, only himself or, through Joyce, the reader too? Further aspects of the Modernist novel can also be seen beginning to emerge in A Portrait. For example, the form of the novel, rather than being a more or less detached vessel into which the subject matter is poured and contained, actually partakes of the subject matter as later, in the mature Modernist work (such as Ulysses), the form actually became the content, united and radiant in appropriate wholeness and harmony: these words in this order. As Joyce told his friend, the artist Frank Budgen:

“I have the words already. What I am seeking is the perfect order of words in the sentence. There is an order in every way appropriate.”

It was a concern very much shared by other Modernist writers at this time, anxious to liberate the novel from its close dependence on external material realism (itself based on assumptions of a direct correspondence between words and reality) and to concentrate on probing the unutterable territory of the human consciousness and the soul, instead of finding their creative energy from within the artist’s uniquely private vision. Subsequently, the Modernist novel also became very much concerned with disrupting the traditional forward flow of narrative time by sudden leaps forward and backward along “timeless” moments (or epiphanies), and setting up conflicts with, while also exploiting, the reader’s “real time” progress through the But one of Joyce’s profound innovations here is the use of multiple points of view. A Portrait has no single perspective: Stephen’s consciousness changes as he matures and, through the shifting modulating style, the perspective of the narrator also changes, setting up an implicit dialectic between the two. The idea itself of an implied narrator—a voice not wholly Joyce’s, but a surrogate author and Joyce’s representative in the work— is a new development evolving through Flaubert, James and Conrad, and arising directly from the avowed aim of keeping the author’s moral presence out of the novel. As we have seen, A Portrait excludes any direct authorial moral comment but continues to exert control over the reader’s response through the technique of the form— juggling the order, emphasis, theme and point of view. Time is also of crucial importance. In the Modernist novel, time dominates both as one of the key themes as well as one of the key organizing principles of the design. Marcel Proust’s A la recherché du temps perdu (1913-27) is a paradigm of this preoccupation with time. An enormous undertaking, its scope is equally epic, its central ideal being that in moments of intense illumination it is possible to penetrate and recapture the long-lost past and to relive its emotions. Because of his special skills and sensitivity the artist, unlike the ordinary person, is able to record and prolong such isolated moments into eternity itself through the magic of symbolism and myth vision (stressing the elevated status of the artist).

But to be able to exploit such moments for the central experience of reality, it was necessary for the novelist to concentrate on pattern rather than plot in organizing his work. Both A la recherché du temps perdu and A Portrait display this emphasis, and Virginia Woolf made her plea for such novels in which, like A Portrait, the interplay of the consciousness of the writer and of his people work to create the form:

“If a writer were a free man and not a slave, if he could write what he chose, not what he must, if he could base his work upon his own feelings and not upon convention, there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no clove interest Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; but a luminous halo, a’ semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning. Of the consciousness to the end. Is it not the task of the novelist to convey this varying, unknown and circumscribed spirit, whatever aberration or complexion it may display, with as little mixture of the alien and external as possible?” (Virginia Woolf)

At the same time the capacity of the language and the novel form are pressed to new limits in attempting to make language approximate to the inner realities of such phenomena as simultaneity (Ulysses), sudden illumination or epiphany (Dubliners and A Portrait), and relative time and the unconsciousness (the techniques of stream-of-consciousness and “interior monologue”). We have seen above already that this idea of the “moment” was one which energized -the work of so many G Modernist -writers—Woolf, Eliot, Proust, and Others—but especially of Joyce, in his idea of the ‘epiphany”, the basic unit of the form in both Dubliners and A Portrait. Its use underlines vividly the fragmentariness of modern existence 4 and .its disintegration, at the same time deriving the form of the work from a principle of significant aesthetic pattern rather than from a conventional chronographic history, the concept of the epiphany dynamically assimilates the Modernist idea of time as the moment to the special notion of truth as discovery. And the writer’s use of his own biography works in the same way, fusing the writer’s conception of real life with the need for pattern and coherence, as Proust reflected:

“The true life, life at last discovered and illuminated, the only true life really lived, is that of the writer.”

The theme of the artist’s own biography (sometimes attacked as a form of introversion) is encountered again and again in the Modernist novel. Like Proust’s masterpiece, A Portrait is both the portrait of the novel’s creator and the revelation of the life principle on which the novel is written. It represents that reality which the novelist is most familiar with: his own life and his art.

Combined with the epiphany as the most logical means of arranging and signifying experience, his own themes of personal exile and alienation parallel the exile and alienation of the age. In the best work of the theme confronts and resolves one of the central crises in the Modernist novel—the struggle to express the new impalpable realities in the wake of the acute failure of confidence in the language. In A Portrait Stephen Dedalus is at the same time both the experience of the novel and its author; Joyce adapts his own experience, and his words are both the means of expressing them as well as being the subject of the expression themselves. The text ultimately forges its justification’ within itself, again perfectly fusing form and content, technique and In Joyce’s contemporary writing, the “portrait of the artist” theme occurs again and again: in Thomas Mann’s

Tonio Kroger, Andre Gide’s The Counterfeiters, D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers and in Proust’s monumental work, as well as in submerged form in countless works, frequently involving exile or flight into the unknown—a correlative of the Modernist crises themselves—through which the artist confronts the problematic of artistic creation and his own relationship to it.

The following points can broadly be considered to understand A Portrait as a Modernist text:

1. The first two pages of A Portrait, so distinctive in style and technique, are an example of the experimentalism that made Joyce’s writing so different from that of his 19th century predecessors. Stephen’s way of perceiving the world affects the sound of the prose, making the boundary between the narrator and the character hard to determine.

2. Stephen’s thoughts about his own name bring up the issue of myth and modernism. Modernist writers like Joyce (T.S. Eliot is another example) had a respect for writers and ideas of the past and often referred myths and mythical characters in their work.

3. Stephen’s decision to devote himself to art after he sees the bird girl is an example of an “epiphany.” Epiphanies, often portrayed in modernist writing, happen when a character is transformed in one moment of penetrating insight.

4. When Stephen thinks as he’s walking to school about “common lives,” he’s expressing a modernist’s concern for the lives of people who are not rich or well-known. Modernist writing often portrays the very real problems of characters that may not have been considered “literary” enough in times past.

5. When Stephen looks at Maple’s Hotel, full of boring middle-class people too comfortable to be affected by art, his reaction of contempt expresses the modernist attitude that true art must be created for art’s sake only, not in the hopes of changing people (who are often too silly or stubborn to be changed).

6. Stephen’s decision to take on art and the world alone shows a notion of individuality that was relatively novel in this time period. In the modern era, the idea of one person taking on the world (Vs. a person acting as part of a community) became a more popular way of thinking about the self.

7. For Joyce, time is a dynamic sequence of fluid consecutive present moments, forever cross- referencing through memory and fate to the past and the future, represented in Stephen’s stream-of-consciousness, and fluctuating between different times in the forms of memory and ambition. Fluidity of time lies central to modernism as an experimental movement.

Stream-of-Consciousness Technique

The advances of modern psychology have been a great shaping force in the literature of the twentieth century, the drama of the mind of the individual becomes the writer’s focus of interest,

The term “stream-of-consciousness” is borrowed from modern psychoanalysis and describes the “free association” of ideas in the human mind. Just as floating objects are carried along somewhat haphazardly by the current of a stream or river, so do thoughts and images travel through our minds in an apparently unorganized, illogical succession. James Joyce and Virginia Woolf were the first writers to transfer this mental phenomenon to English literature and exploit it as a literary technique. Instead of simply stating what the character is thinking, the author writes as though he were inside the mind of the, character. The result is an “interior monologue” or “direct quotation of the mind.” The “action” takes place and the plot develops through the mind of the characters. The adventures of Stephen Dedalus are of an emotional and intellectual nature. The real struggles take place in his mind, and so, th6ught becomes “action.” what he does and sees is not so significant as what he thinks as he is doing and seeing. The actual conflict & are not usually dramatized. An external event or situation along with all the associations and recollections which it arouses in Stephen’s mind are presented more or less simultaneously. In this connection, it should be noted that there is an uncommon amount of walking done in Portrait of the Artist. It is the principal “action” of the story. Stephen says at the end of Portrait of the Artist: “The Past is consumed in the present and the present is living only because it brings forth the future.” Joyce was ever concerned with the past’s impingement on the present. One cannot escape the past; it determines the present. Other twentieth-century writers have developed this theme, notably William Faulkner. Stephen Dedalus has a sense of history and though he says, “I am not responsible for the past,” he sees the consequences of the past all around him in the present. This merging of past and present in Joyce’s writing is expressed by means of the stream-of-consciousness technique.


Fundamental to an appreciation of Joyce’s approach in A Portrait is an understanding of his concept of “epiphany ‘ and its use. As defined by Stephen and used by Joyce, it is crucially important not only to this novel but to all of Joyce’s work, since in implications it widely embraces the themes of time, truth, morality and art. By epiphany, Joyce meant a sudden revelation, a moment when an ordinary object is perceived in a way that reveals its deeper significance. An epiphany can produce in the perceiver a moment of ecstasy. The word epiphany does not actually appear in A Portrait, but Joyce does use it in Stephen Hero, the draft on which A Portrait was based: “By an epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual manifestation. . . . He believed that it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care, seeing that they themselves are the most delicate -and evanescent of moments.” An epiphany occurs as part of the perception of beauty, Stephen says as he explains his aesthetic theory to Cranly (in A Portrait, it is Lynch to whom he explains the theory). Joyce bases this theory on the work of St. Thomas Aquinas, the medieval Catholic theologian. According to Aquinas, the three things needed for beauty are integrity, symmetry, and radiance. It is when the last quality, radiance, is perceived, that an epiphany occurs.

This is how Stephen explains it in Stephen Hero: “1ts soul, it’s what ness, leaps to us from the vestment of its appearance, the soul of the commonest object seems to us radiant. The object achieves its epiphany.” When this episode appears in A Portrait (in Chapter 5), the three qualities from Aquinas are altered slightly, to become wholeness, harmony and radiance. Stephen explains, “The instant wherein that supreme quality of beauty, the clear radiance of the esthetic image, is apprehended luminously by the mind which has been arrested by its wholeness and fascinated by its harmony is the luminous silent stasis of esthetic pleasure, a spiritual state” In A Portrait, Joyce makes use of epiphanies not only as a fundamentally significant literary technique but also as an important philosophical concept which was to become the cornerstone Of his own mature works—and a cornerstone of Modernism in general. The most famous epiphany in A Portrait is the moment Stephen perceives the girl wading in the strand: “A girl stood before him in midstream, alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful sea creature” Another epiphany occurs later, when Stephen watches the swallows from the steps of the library. The Penultimate entry in his journal (“Welcome, O life) is also an epiphany, since an epiphany, Joyce has Stephen say in Stephen Hero, can also be “a memorable Phase of the mind itself.” In this case, the epiphany is a sudden realization about life that uplifts the soul. In Stephen’s definition and in Joyce’s practice, the term has two meanings: one is that an epiphany reveals the truth, the intrinsic essence of a person or of something which is observed, revealed perhaps through a “vulgarity of speech or of gesture”; and the second meaning is a state of mind, a heightened spiritual elation of the observer’s mind, what Joyce calls the “memorable phase of the mind itself’. The first puts emphasis on the object and the fact that its reality can be revealed by an epiphany, while the second puts emphasis on the observer„ for whom an epiphany can be a state of spiritual ecstasy. Consequently, although we would normally think of the acquisition of knowledge in terms of a rational process, both of these meanings involve non-rational states, and in so far as they involve knowledge (either about an object or about oneself), the process implies a subjective source of truth, knowledge as a sort of intuition.

Taking the first meaning of “epiphany”, the example which Stephen gives to Cranly in Stephen Hero places the emphasis on the object rather than the observer: “the clock of the Ballast Office was capable of an epiphany”— not that the clock has the ability, but that it is a potential source of epiphany for the person looking at it. A good example of this comes in Chapter 2 of Portrait when Stephen’s romantic idea of farm life is given a violent shock by the reality when he visits Stradbroke, and the vivid details of the cow yard bring home to him the between the beauty of his idea and the foulness of the reality: the first sight of the filthy cow yard at Stradbroke with its foul green puddles and clots of liquid dung and steaming bran-troughs sickened Similarly, in Chapter 4, Stephen recalls the rough feel of a woman’s stocking as a shock to his preconception of the yielding softness of women. And, as we have seen in A Portrait as a whole, Joyce likes to parallel the shock of reality for Stephen with a similar shock for the reader through a change of style, both to reinforce the impact of the sudden enlightenment and to rouse Stephen into an awareness of the sordid reality of Dublin. The epiphany; in fact, is fundamental to Joyce’s writings and Modernism in general, for no longer is the novel tied to the plot of strict chronological sequence. The psychological insights of the epiphany all at once open up a completely new, wholly natural method of organizing the subject matter-—through the consciousness of the central character, around the ever-present and eternal moment, flashing back and forth spontaneously between the “was” and “shal” of now. For Joyce, time is a dynamic sequence of fluid consecutive present moments, forever cross-referencing through memory and fate to the past and the future, represented in Stephen’s stream-of- consciousness, and fluctuating between different times in the forms of memory and ambition. This idea, that in the evanescent moment all eternity can be glimpsed, is further developed by Joyce in Ulysses and in Finnegans Wake where it finds ultimate expression. In both works Joyce takes Rill advantage of the epiphany technique by his additional of myth and fable, vastly expanding the connotations of the immediate material to embrace cosmic potentialities However, as we have already seen, the approach already started with A Portrait both in the role played by the epiphany br “timeless moment in time’ 7 (as T.S Eliot called it) and also in his more limited use of archetype myth and symbol: Daedalus, Icarus, Christ, St. Stephen,

Lucifer, Parnell.

Stephen’s Aesthetic Theory

The main aspects of Joyce’s aesthetic theory are as follows:

1. Those things are beautiful the perception of which pleases.

2. The good is that towards which the appetite tends.

a. The creative artist is concerned only with the creation of the beautiful.

b. The productive artist is concerned with the production of the good.

3. Art must produce a stasis in the observer; that is, it seeks no end but the satisfaction of an aesthetic sense.

4. Art should not be kinetic; that is, it should not produce an emotion such as desire or loathing.

If it does it assumes the function of a useful art, such as rhetoric,

5. Three things are necessary for the perception of the beautiful:

A. wholeness or integrity

B. harmony or proportion

C. clarity or radiance.

Using the example of a basket, Stephen elaborates on the three things necessary for the perception of the beautiful. First, one sees the basket as one thing (wholeness); then one perceives it as a thing with parts (harmony): finally one sees it as that thing and no other thing (clarity). Stephen explains to Lynch that beauty and truth produce a stasis in the mind of the observer He quotes Plato: “Beauty is the splendor of the truth.” As they proceed on their walk, Stephen divides art into a progression of three forms:

1. The lyrical: the image is presented in immediate relation to the artist himself.

2. The epic: the image is presented in immediate relation to the artist and to others (not purely personal).

3. The dramatic: the image is presented in immediate relation to others. The artist’s personality is refined out of existence (impersonal).

Joyce’s Use of Imagery

Although Joyce is frequently praised for his mastery of the “stream-of-consciousness” narrative technique, his distinctive use of imagery has contributed much to the artistic development of the twentieth-century novel. Specifically in A Portrait, he uses imagery to establish motifs, identify symbols, and provide thematic unity throughout the work. Perhaps the most obvious use of imagery in the novel occurs during the novel’s first few pages, with the introduction of the sensory details which shape Stephen’s early life: wet versus dry; hot versus cold; and light versus dark—all images of dichotomy which reveal the forces which will affect Stephen’s life as he matures. If we can understand this imagery, then we can better Understand Stephen’s reasons for deciding to leave Ireland. The wet/dry imagery, for example, is symbolic of Stephen’s natural response to the world versus a learned response. As a small child, Stephen learns that any expression of a natural inclination (such as wetting the bed) is labeled “wrong”; the wet sheets will be replaced by a dry, reinforcing “oil sheet”— and a swift, unpleasant correction for inappropriate behavior. Thus, wet things relate to natural responses and dry things relate to learned behavior. Other examples of this wet/dry imagery include the wetness of the cesspool (the square ditch) that Stephen is shoved into and the illness which follows; likewise, the “flood” of adolescent sexual feelings which engulf

Stephen in “wavelet(s),” causing him guilt and shame, seemingly, “wet” is bad; “dry” is good.

A turning point in this pattern occurs when Stephen crosses the “trembling bridge” over the river Tolka. He leaves behind his dry, “withered” heart, as well as most of the remnants of his Catholicism. As he waves through “a long rivulet in the strand,” he encounters a young girl, described as a “strange and beautiful seabird.” She gazes at Stephen from the sea, and her invitation to the “wet” (natural) life enables Stephen to make a climactic choice concerning his destiny as an artist. Later, after Stephen has explained his aesthetic philosophy to Lynch, rain begins to fall; seemingly, the heavens approve of Stephen’s theories about art, as well as his choice of art as a career. The hot/cold imagery similarly affects Stephen. At the beginning of the novel, Stephen clearly prefers his mother’s warm smell to that of his father. For Stephen, “hot” is symbolic of the intensity of physical affection (and, in some cases, sin); “cold,” on the other hand, is

Symbolic of propriety, order, and chastity. Specific examples of this symbolism can be found in Stephen’s memories: resting in his mother’s warm lap, being cared for by the kindly Brother Michael (when Stephen is recovering from a fever), and receiving a heated embrace from the Dublin prostitutes during his first sexual encounter. In contrast, the cold, slimy water of the square ditch is evidence of the cruel reality of his changing life at school; in addition, Stephen initially experiences a “cold indifference” when he thinks about the Belvedere retreat, and his vision-like worship of Eileen (the young Protestant girl) has coldly symbolic, touch-me-not overtones; her hands, pure and white, enable him to understand the references to the Tower of Ivory in an oft-repeated Church litany. The last of this set of opposites is concerned with the light/dark dichotomy: light symbolizes knowledge (confidence)’ and dark symbolizes ignorance (terror). Numerous examples of this conflict pervade the novel. In an early scene, when Stephen says that he will marry a Protestant, he is threatened with blindness: “Put out his eyes / Apologies.” Stephen is terrorized without knowing why; seemingly, a good Catholic boy should remain ignorant about other faiths—and perhaps even of women Stephen’s natural fondness for Eileen is condemned. Stephen is only a boy, but his sensitive artist’s nature realizes that he is going to grow up in a world where he will be forced to suppress his true felling and conform to society’s rules and threats. Stephen’s broken glasses are also part of this light/dark imagery. Without his glasses, Stephen see the world as if it were a dark blur; figuratively blinded, he cannot learn. And yet he is unjustly punished for telling the truth about the reason for his ‘blindness.” He quickly’ realizes the potential, dark (irrational) cruelty of the clergy Further on in the novel, there are recurrent images of darkness in the streets of Dublin—for example, when Stephen makes his way to the brothel district. Here, we also see the darkness within Stephen’s heart as he wanders willfully towards sin. Later on, the philosophical discussion about the lamp with the Dean of Studies (Chapter V) reveals the ‘blindness” of this cleric, compared with the illumination of Stephen’s aesthetic thoughts.

 A close reading of the novel will produce many more images within these patterns. Joyce’s use of them is essential as he constructs his intricate thematic structure. Another kind of imagery in the novel is made up of references to colors and names. Colors, as Joyce uses them, often indicate the political and religious forces which affect Stephen’s life. Similarly, Joyce uses names to evoke various images—specifically those which imply animal qualities, providing clues to Stephen’s relationships with people. For an example of color imagery, note that Dante owns two velvet-backed brushes—-one maroon, one green. The maroon brush symbolizes Michael Davitt, the pro-Catholic activist of the Irish Land League; the green- backed brush symbolizes Charles Stewart Parnell. Once Parnell was Dante’s political hero par excellence, but after the Church denounced him, she ripped the green cloth from the back of her brush. Other references to color include Stephen’s desire to have a “green rose” (an expression of his creative nature) instead of a white one or a red one, symbols of his class’ scholastic teams. Another reference to color imagery can be seen in Lynch’s use of the term “yellow insolence” (Chapter V); instead of using the word ‘bloody,” Lynch uses the word ‘Yellow,” indicating a sickly, cowardly attitude towards life. Idea of a ‘bloody” natural lust for living would be appalling to Lynch. Lynch’s name, literally, means “to hang”; he has a “long slender flattened skull . . . like a hooded reptile … with a reptile like … gaze and a self- embittered … soul.” Like Lynch, Temple is also representative of his name. Temple considers himself “a believer in the power of the mind.” He admires Stephen greatly for his “independent thinking,” and he himself tries to “think” about the problems of the world. Cranly, like his name (cranium, meaning “skull”), is Stephen’s companion, to whom he confesses his deepest feelings. Note that several of Joyce’s references also focus on Stephen’s image of Cranly’s “severed head”; Cranly’s symbolic significance to Stephen is similar to that of John the Baptist (the “martyred Christ”). The name ‘Cranly” also reminds us of the skull on the rector’s desk and Joyce’s emphasis on the shadowy skull of the Jesuit director who queries Stephen about a religious vocation. Concerning the other imagery in the novel, perhaps the most pervasive is the imagery that pertains to Stephen’s exile, or, specifically, his “flight” from Ireland. The flight imagery begins as early as his first days at Clongowes, when Stephen’s oppressed feelings are symbolized by “a heavy bird flying low through the grey light.” Later, a greasy football soars “like a heavy bird” through the sky. At that time, flight from unhappiness seemed impossible for Stephen, but as the novel progresses and Stephen begins to formulate his artistic ideals, the notion of flight seems possible. For example, in Chapter IV, after Stephen renounces the possibility of a religious vocation, he feels a “proud sovereignty” as he crosses over the Tolka and his name is called out by his classmates; this incident is followed by another allusion to flight. Later, the girl wading in the sea is described as “delicate as a crane,” with the fringes of her “drawers … like the featherings of soft white down”; her bosom is described as “the breast of some dark plumaged dove.” Her presence in this moment of epiphany enables Stephen to choose art as his vocation. Finally, note that when Stephen’s friends call him, his name seems to carry a “prophecy”; he sees a “winged form flying above the waves and … climbing in the air.” The image of this “hawk like man flying sunward” is at the heart of the flight motif. As Stephen realizes his life’s purpose, he sees his “soul soaring in the air.” He yearns to cry out like an “eagle on high.” He experiences “an instant of wild flight” and is “delivered” free from the bondage of his past. At the end of the novel, Stephen cries out to Daedalus, his “old father, old artificer,” and prepares for his own flight to artistic freedom.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.